Thursday, April 18

10 Best UFC Light-Heavyweight Champions Ever, Ranked

Highlights

  • Shamrock, Ortiz, and Machida helped shift the UFC spotlight to the light heavyweight division in the sport’s early days.
  • Blachowicz showcased resilience and skill in his journey to become the UFC light heavyweight champion.
  • Teixeira and Rua’s captivating careers demonstrated the grit and determination needed to excel in the light heavyweight MMA division.



The light heavyweight division was the glamour division for the UFC initially. It had Frank Shamrock dominating in the ’90s before the likes of Tito Ortiz stepped into the frame. At this point, the sport became a lot more mainstream, with many WWE fans also taking notice.

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In time, the promotion shifted in a big way. The Zuffa era with now-President and CEO, Dana White, and the Fertittas helped bring different eyes to the sport, as well as a new breed of diverse fighters. As all these styles collided, the 205 pound division managed to churn out some of the best champions that MMA has ever witnessed.


10 Jan Blachowicz Unleashed Polish Power

Blachowicz Showed The Stylebender How To Wrestle


Place of Birth

Poland

Date of Birth

Feb. 24, 1983

Age

41

Year of MMA Debut

2007

Overall MMA Record

29-10-1

Jan Blachowicz held the belt for just over a year after coming to the UFC in 2014 as the KSW light heavyweight champion. Blachowicz had a rough start, despite beginning with a TKO of lir Latifi. He went 1-4, which saw him placed on the verge of being cut. However, Blachowicz rebounded, using his knockout power, grappling and ground-and-pound to go 7-1. It included wins over Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza, which led to an interim title fight against Dominick Reyes in 2020 at UFC 253.


Blachowicz won the belt via TKO and then smothered Israel Adesanya via decision in his first title defense. Unfortunately, he lost the belt to Glover Teixeira, drew an interim title fight to Magomed Ankalaev, and lost a decision in a contender’s bout against Alex Pereira in 2023. That said, Blachowicz is always one win away from a shot, but he has to maximize his next fight as time is against him.

9 Lyoto Machida Was A True Karate Kid

Machida Had Swift Hands And Feet

Lyoto Machida raises his hands after beating Rashad Evans

Place of Birth

Brazil

Date of Birth

May 30, 1978

Age

45

Year of MMA Debut

2003

Overall MMA Record

26-12


After joining the UFC in 2007, Lyoto Machida’s rise to the title was nothing short of epic. He used his karate and kickboxing to win his first six fights and get a shot against Rashad Evans at UFC 98 in 2009. Machida won the strap via a scary knockout. The Machida era was underway, and it seemed like he was going to be a dominant champion. He beat Maurício Rua via decision at UFC 104, only to lose it in a rematch the following year.

Machida then had an up and down light heavyweight run. He eventually earned another shot but got viciously choked out against Jon Jones at 2011’s UFC 140. Machida won a couple more fights at light heavyweight before failing to win the UFC middleweight title. That said, many fans and fighters have always maintained respect for a true gentleman of the sport. Machida has wins over Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Tito Ortiz and Ryan Bader, affirming he is indeed an MMA legend.


8 Frank Shamrock Was A Pure Savage

Shamrock Loved The Taste Of Blood

Frank Shamrock celebrates a win

Place of Birth

USA

Date of Birth

Dec. 8, 1972

Age

51

Year of MMA Debut

1994

Overall MMA Record

23-10-2

After carving out a reputation in Pancrase, Frank Shamrock came to the UFC in 1997 and submitted Kevin Jackson in Japan to win gold. He became a pioneer as he was the first to hold the belt in the light heavyweight division. Granted, the opposition wasn’t as technically sound, which allowed Shamrock to use his kickboxing, grappling and submission prowess to become this incontrovertible champion.


Shamrock had a resoundingly successful but weird stint. He defended the belt against Igor Zinoviev (KO slam), Jeremy Horn (submission via kneebar), John Lober (submission to punches), drew with Kiyoshi Tamura, and had Ortiz tapping to punches in 1999. He then retired, which left White stumped. He would return in 2000 for stints with K-1, WEC, Elite X and Strikeforce, but he never hit those UFC heights again. Shamrock retired again in 2009, but no matter what, he maintains the admiration of many for his slick, effective style, and overall fight IQ.

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7 Tito Ortiz Was A Controversial Champ

Ortiz’s In-Cage Heart Can’t Be Denied

Tito Ortiz with blue gloves in his stance
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports


Place of Birth

USA

Date of Birth

Jan. 23, 1975

Age

49

Year of MMA Debut

1997

Overall MMA Record

21-12-1

Tito Ortiz may have become somewhat a joke over time in the MMA community, but he was nothing short of phenomenal in his early career. After dropping his first title shot against Shamrock, Ortiz picked up the pace. He beat Wanderlei Silva via decision for the belt at UFC 25, before defending the strap five times — a whopping figure no matter how it’s cut.


Ortiz submitted Yuki Kondo, beat Evan Tanner (KO slam), TKO’d Elvis Sinosic, beat Vladimir Matyushenko via decision, and then beat Ken Shamrock via corner stoppage. Ortiz lost the belt to Couture and never got it back, losing a shot against Chuck Liddell at UFC 66. Ortiz still garnered wins over Vitor Belfort and Forrest Griffin to show his worth. He ended with a huge losing skid at the UFC, though, but when he went to Bellator in 2014, his brawling style garnered him some wins before he retired in 2019.

6 Maurício Rua Had A Diverse Arsenal

‘Shogun’ Was A Gritty, Tenacious Brawler

Place of Birth

Brazil

Date of Birth

Nov. 25, 1981

Age

42

Year of MMA Debut

2002

Overall MMA Record

27-14-1


Maurício Rua’s light heavyweight run was impressive due to him being past his prime physically by the time he hit the UFC. He debuted at 25, but his body was worn after a tough 12-1 run at PRIDE. It included multiple surgeries. He immediately lost to Forrest Griffin, but rebounded with back-to-back TKO victories over Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell. He eventually copped the crown in the second attempt against Machida at UFC 113.

Rua got dominated by Jones right after to lose his belt, sending him down a spiral where he tended to alternate wins and losses until 2015. Rua actually hit one of the best strides of his career in his late ’30s, only losing one in seven from 2015 to 2020. He claimed wins over the likes of Tyson Pedro, Antônio Rogério Nogueira and Corey Anderson in that stretch, before a 0-3 slide had him retire in 2023. Despite the ups and downs, he remains one of the division’s roughest, most rugged kickboxers.


5 Glover Teixeira Had A Furious Style

Teixeira Always Came For A Brawl

Glover Teixeira punches Anthony Smith

Place of Birth

Brazil

Date of Birth

Oct. 28, 1979

Age

44

Year of MMA Debut

2002

Overall MMA Record

33-9

Glover Teixeira is another immense underdog story. He came to the UFC in 2012 after a visa delay that would have seen him arrive earlier. He missed some prime years waiting, but still went on a five-fight unbeaten streak to get a shot. Unfortunately, Jones dominated him by decision. Teixeira then had a topsy-turvy 10-4 run that saw him claw his way back into contention.


He scalped Jared Cannonier, Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos, rewinding the clock and proving age didn’t matter. He submitted Blachowicz in 2021 to become the oldest first time champion in UFC history at 42 years old. The submission artist was beating Jiri Procházka in the next fight before gassing out and tapping in the final stages. He then got a crack at Jamahal Hill for the vacant belt, but lost that as well in 2023. Teixeira hung up the gloves, but he had already amassed a brilliant record, and reputation as a gentle giant all fans adore.

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4 Randy Couture Had Stellar Performances

Couture Helped Build The Division


Place of Birth

USA

Date of Birth

Jun. 22, 1963

Age

60

Year of MMA Debut

1997

Overall MMA Record

19-11

Randy Couture might not have the best relationship with the UFC. But he helped put the company on the map in the ’90s and 2000s. He accumulated a 15-8 record for White’s promotion, which saw him win the UFC heavyweight title three times, and claim the light heavyweight crown on two occasions.

Amid this champ-champ status, Couture’s C.V. is quite decorated. In his first light heavyweight run, he unified the belt with wins over Ortiz and Liddell in 2003. He dropped the gold to Belfort before taking it back in 2004, only to lose it to Liddell. He lost a rematch to Liddell but went up to claim heavyweight gold again for a bit. Couture’s slugfest style mixed well with his wrestling, which is why no one can discount what this UFC Hall of Famer accomplished.


3 Chuck Liddell Helped Prop The UFC Brand Up

The ‘Iceman’ Is One Of The UFC’s Earliest Pillars

Place of Birth

USA

Date of Birth

Dec. 17, 1969

Age

54

Year of MMA Debut

1998

Overall MMA Record

21-9

Chuck Liddell was one of MMA’s first superstars. He was brought into the UFC by his then-manager, White. Liddell debuted in 1998 and had a UFC record of 16 wins and seven losses before he retired in 2010. He did come back for a 2018 fight against Ortiz, but fans knew both were past their prime.


That said, the ‘Iceman’ was a KO artist. He lost his first attempt at the belt to Couture in 2003, but he later took out Ortiz and beat Couture in 2005. Liddell defended the strap against Horn, Couture, Renato Sobral and Ortiz before dropping it to ‘Rampage’ Jackson in 2007. The ageing Liddell never got back into title chatter again, but with other scalps like Belfort under his thumb, it’s hard to deny Liddell’s greatness and his highlight reel of guys getting slept.

2 Daniel Cormier Had A Dominant Energy

‘DC’ Was One Of UFC’s Most Versatile Champ-Champs

Daniel Cormier punches Anthony Rumble Johnson


Place of Birth

USA

Date of Birth

Mar. 20, 1979

Age

45

Year of MMA Debut

2009

Overall MMA Record

22-3 (1 NC)

Daniel Cormier was a Strikeforce heavyweight legend, but he fought at light heavyweight in the UFC when he came over in 2013. He didn’t want to clash with his teammate, Cain Velasquez, at heavyweight, so he battered and wrestled folks like Frank Mir, Roy Nelson and Henderson. It earned him a title fight against Jones in 2015 where ‘DC’ went in with an overall 15-0 record. Jones would beat him but get stripped for a run-in with the law.


Cormier then had a mammoth run, submitting Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson for the vacant belt, defending it via decision against Alexander Gustafsson, and then drubbing Anderson Silva at UFC 200 in a non-title fight. Cormier defended the belt by choking out Johnson again to show he was the man! His next fight against Jones was deemed a no-contest due to Jones testing positive for a banned substance. ‘DC’ went on to beat Volkan Oezdemir before going up and beating Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight gold. Cormier became a champ-champ, but never fought at light heavyweight again, nor did Jones ever move up to settle their trilogy.

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1 Jon Jones Is The King Of Light Heavyweights

‘Bones’ Always Found A Way To Win

Place of Birth

USA

Date of Birth

Jul. 19, 1987

Age

36

Year of MMA Debut

2008

Overall MMA Record

27-1 (1 NC)


Jon Jones’ career will always be tainted by his actions outside the cage and the doping issues, which the UFC did diminish over time due to new metrics. That said, it’s hard not to give him his flowers, as he became the youngest UFC champ ever when he beat Rua. ‘Bones’ could wrestle, strike, grapple and innovate techniques that saw him defend this belt against Jackson (submission due to rear-naked choke), Machida (submission due to guillotine), Evans (decision), Belfort (submission via keylock), and Sonnen (TKO via elbows and punches).

Jones was as dynamite and dynamic as they came, outthinking all opponents. No one had an answer for him and his gifts. He controlled distance well with his reach and finessed his combos, elbows and such. He defended this belt an astounding eight more times before moving up and winning the heavyweight title. ‘Bones’ ended with 20 light heavyweight wins, one no-contest, and one loss to Matt Hamill in 2009, where he was penalized for throwing illegal elbows. He was winning that fight convincingly too, which has always left him bitter about that lone blemish.


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